Monday, February 2, 2015

Book Review: Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr

I snatched this book off the library shelves when I read the summary and saw the title. A carnival with demons? By the author of Wicked Lovely? Better read it immediately. But did the book live up to my excitement? Let’s find out.

The Plot: In a city of daimons, rigid class lines separate the powerful from the power-hungry. And at the heart of The City is the carnival, where both murder and pleasure are offered up for sale. Once in a generation, the carnival hosts a deadly competition that allows every daimon a chance to join the ruling elite. Without the competition, Aya and Kaleb would both face bleak futures—if for different reasons. For each of them, fighting to the death is the only way to try to live.

All Mallory knows of The City is that her father—and every other witch there—fled it for a life in exile in the human world. Instead of a typical teenage life full of friends and maybe even a little romance, Mallory scans quiet streets for threats, hides herself away, and trains to be lethal. She knows it's only a matter of time until a daimon finds her and her father, so she readies herself for the inevitable. While Mallory possesses little knowledge of The City, every inhabitant of The City knows of her. There are plans for Mallory, and soon she, too, will be drawn into the decadence and danger that is the carnival.

From Melissa Marr, bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series and Graveminder, comes a brand-new tale of lush secrets, dark love, and the struggle to forge one's own destiny. (Plot summary according to Good Reads)

The Characters: There are three main characters to this story, ranging from awesome to unnecessary to really creepy. First there’s Aya. She’s pretty awesome. There are clear stakes as she enters this game and she’s all around likable, though hardened by the world. I’m a sucker for those kinds of characters. Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Mallory. We’re told that she’s a badass. But she never does any badass things. She’s just kind of… there and I can’t for the life of me figure out why she’s in the story. And then there’s Kaleb. He started out as pretty interesting but got really creepy really fast by the end of it. A shame, because it wouldn’t have happened without the Mallory subplot. But we’ll get to that later.

The Good Points: This book does have a lot of good points. I like the world, for instance, and the basic set up. I’m a sucker for fights to the death. I know they’ve been overused lately, but heck if I care. They’re fun to read about. There is an interesting class system set up and, as I said, I really enjoy Aya. But then there’s the bad points.

The Bad Points: Execution is everything. And in this case, the execution of Carnival of Souls is a bit confused. It seemed the author wanted to write two books. One is about an awesome fight to the death in an interesting world of demons. The other is about a typical teenage girl discovering a world of demons and finding romance (much more typical paranormal romance fair). Either of those would be fine with a deft hand. Melissa Marr has handled the latter plot well before (See Wicked Lovely), but something about this just falls flat. The main character isn't memorable and the romance is so rushed and, at the end, creepy, that its disconcerting and overshadows all the fun points about the books. Every time the book jumped to Mallory I felt disoriented. The two plots didn’t mesh whatsoever.

And let’s talk about another issue I have with the world. I think the world is pretty interesting (though it could have been better developed) but one fact particularly gets under my skin, that being the subjugation of women. This has been done in fantasy. It has been done so many times. I know that women were subjugated in the past. I know that we still face disadvantages. But we’ve seen it done in fiction so much. I’d like to see fantasies build conflicts that don’t rely on fighting gender norms. It can be done and it can make great fiction. And in this case the subjugation of women seemed so typical and been done. And it also added to the extremely creepy and unsettling romance that I can’t get into because of spoilers. It left a bad taste in my mouth when I closed the book. Its not that the gender subjugation was handled poorly for the most part. I would just like to see something new.

In the end, it’s a shame this book was so convoluted and rushed. With the right focus and the removal of the Mallory plot, it could have been quite interesting. Unfortunately old fantasy clichés, a rushed romance, and weird characterization leaves this book with a low rating. It didn’t anger me, but its just not the quality of work I've come to expect from Melissa Marr.

Final Rating: 2/5 stars.

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